Crude oil is cheaper now than at any time in more than five years. Not surprisingly, some investors are fleeing the energy sector, believing that things can only get worse in the oil patch. Yet for dividend investors, who have traditionally found a haven in the sector -- energy stocks contributed a little more than 12% of the S&P 500's total dividend last year -- a plunging oil price may actually represent an opportunity.

We don't know where oil prices will head in 2015. Predicting the future is always a fool's errand. One thing is certain: Trends, particularly in volatile commodities, can reverse quickly. Some of those now selling oil stocks were among the people buying on July 3, 2008 -- when the spot price of West Texas Intermediate peaked at $145.31. Two days before Christmas in that same year, WTI spot was $30.28, a decline of more than 79% in less than six months as the financial crisis deepened. (Within a year, WTI spot prices were back in the $70-$80 range.)

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